WEIRDLAND: "Living in a Big Way" (1947) by Gregory La Cava, starring Gene Kelly & Marie McDonald

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

"Living in a Big Way" (1947) by Gregory La Cava, starring Gene Kelly & Marie McDonald

Gene Kelly as Leo Gogarty and Marie McDonald as Margaud Morgan in "Living in a Big Way" (1947) directed by Gregory La Cava

Living in a Big Way (1947) directed by Gregory La Cava, starring Gene Kelly, Marie McDonald, Phyllis Thaxter, etc.

Gene Kelly didn't really want to make "Living in a Big Way". Since his release from the Navy, MGM had had little for him to do. The studio was focusing on bigger male stars who had been kept off the screen longer by military duty. In addition, executives weren't sure if the brash persona he had already developed in films like his debut, "For Me and My Gal" (1942), and "Anchors Aweigh" (1945) would play well in peacetime.

Still, he had enough of a fan following that his presence could bolster beauty queen Marie McDonald, whom MGM was trying to turn into a star to rival Lana Turner. Kelly didn't like the colorless role the script offered or the fact that he'd be teamed with an actress best known by the nickname her press agents had created, "The Body."

Gregory La Cava's improvisatory approach was a boon to Kelly. When the dancing star suggested adding some musical numbers to the film, La Cava was all too willing. Kelly and Donen staged a romantic duet for the courtship scenes with McDonald, a comic dance with a dog who, like Kelly, has been rejected by the leading lady, and a lengthy sequence in which Kelly seemingly improvises an athletic dance to entertain some children while he's building a house.

The dog dance gave Kelly a chance to choreograph around the character's persona, something he and Donen would explore further in the "Day in New York" ballet for On the Town. The improvisatory feel of the house-building routine would become a Kelly staple in films like "Summer Stock" (1950), "An American in Paris" (1951) and "Singin' in the Rain."

When the film was finally finished, it did poorly at the box office. Later critics have noted that La Cava's directions revealed a comic dimension to Kelly's acting that had not been exploited well before and that the film fits well with the director's other comic treatments of class warfare.

Screenplay: Gregory La Cava, Irving Ravetch
Based on a story by La Cava
Cinematography: Harold Rosson
Cast: Gene Kelly (Leo Gogarty), Marie McDonald (Margaud Morgan), Charles Winninger (D. Rutherford Morgan), Phyllis Thaxter (Peggy Randall), Spring Byington (Mrs. Morgan), Jean Adair (Abigail Morgan), Clinton Sundberg (Everett Hanover Smythe), Barbara Billingsley (G.I. Bill's Wife), Ellen Corby (Broken Arms' Sailors Wife), Charles Lane (Hawkins), Marie Windsor, Shelley Winters (Junior League Girls). Source:

Gene Kelly is just so damn beautiful it hurts. He’s also such a great actor. In this film he is allowed a great range of emotions, as well as some truly stunning dance routines – choreographed by himself and Stanley Donen.

The film begins during the war – when Kelly’s Leo Gogarty meets Marie McDonald’s Margo at a dance and the two get themselves into one of those hasty “war marriages.” They also share a dance scene that is so hot they might have well have been having sex right there. The film then cuts to three years later, when the war is over and soldiers are returning home. As you can imagine, chaos ensues.

Apparently MGM wanted to use this film to launch McDonald as a Lana Turner type star. You can see they did a pretty good job with the ice blonde hair and styling, but as charming as McDonald is, she just doesn’t have “it” and Kelly outshines her so consistently it is hard to watch sometimes. Source:

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